2021 NHL Draft: Johnson vs. Guenther

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The 2021 NHL Draft will be held on July 23-24. NHL.com is counting down to the draft with profiles on top prospects and other features. Today, a comparison between top draft-eligible forwards Kent Johnson of the University of Michigan and Dylan Guenther of Edmonton. NHL.com’s full draft coverage can be found here.

Kent Johnson and Dylan Guenther each is a hard-nosed forward with a desire to create offense and score goals.

Many scouts project each has the ability and competitiveness to be a very effective NHL player one day. The question is, who should be selected first in the 2021 NHL Draft?

The 2021 Draft will be held virtually, with the first round July 23 (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, SN NOW), and rounds 2-7 on July 24 (11 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, SN NOW).

Johnson (6-foot-1, 167 pounds), a center who played left wing as a freshman at the University of Michigan this season, is No. 3 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters. He scored 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists), including a Michigan-best three power-play goals, in 26 games. The 18-year-old led first-time NHL Draft-eligible NCAA players in assists, points and points per game (1.04).

Guenther (6-1, 175), No. 5 in Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, is an elite goal scorer with quickness. He scored 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists), including six power-play points (two goals, four assists), in 12 Western Hockey League games. He scored seven points (four goals, three assists) in seven games at the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship, leading first-place Canada with 34 shots on goal. 

Tweet from @mikemorrealeNHL: New @NHL Draft Class with @NHLCentralScout John Williams. He deep dives @TheWHL prospects and compares Dylan Guenther to one of the stars of this year’s #StanleyCupPlayoffs Apple: https://t.co/kaxTa5Aj66Spotify: https://t.co/FqwFTTuCUy pic.twitter.com/MDtC5gM4kP

“They’re both really good offensive players,” said Craig Button, TSN director of scouting, NHL analyst and a former NHL general manager. “I think Dylan has a little bit more dynamic skill, so I’d say Dylan. I think Kent is more of a playmaker, but he’s a sneaky good goal scorer. Dylan to me is just a really well-balanced shooter, playmaker and I think he can do both.”

In a poll conducted by NHL.com of 10 NHL scouts who were asked which player they would choose if given the option, Johnson earned an 8-2 advantage.

NHL.com sought the opinion of NHL evaluators who have watched Johnson and Guenther this season. They promised honesty in exchange for anonymity.

In favor of Kent Johnson

“They’re complete opposites. Guenther is a shooter. He’s got an unbelievable one-timer. I hate to put an Alex Ovechkin comparable, but that’s kind of the way he operates. That’s how he’s used on the power play (with Edmonton) and how he was used at U-18s. Johnson is more of a playmaker. He can shoot well too, but he definitely has a pass-first mindset. Johnson can be Patrick Kane because of his hands and creativity. When Patrick Kane has the puck he doesn’t just push it up the ice, he’s always playing with it, and Johnson does the same thing. It’s like a lacrosse player, they’re switching from left to right. Johnson is always trying these crazy plays, and 90 percent of the time they work, and you’re like, ‘How did he do that?’ When he fills out he could be scary. I mean, Guenther is a pure shooter for me, but I just give that edge to Johnson because of the hockey sense.”

“I feel that his skill level is too high to pass over. He has the potential to be an electrifying, franchise player. There are a lot of things he does on the ice that are exceptional. His puck skill game, playmaking abilities are excellent. I see a lot of Patrick Kane when I see him play.”

“I just think he’s got that superstar kind of upside that’s really special. He’s got an elite package. His skating, his size and his strength are things that will need to continue to improve to really be able to step into the NHL against these big, strong defensemen. I just think he’s got the potential to lead the NHL in scoring one day.”

In favor of Dylan Guenther

“I think Guenther can play anywhere among your 12 forwards. I think he can play with Connor McDavid on the off-side (left wing) or he could play fourth line and still figure out how to be effective. I just think you can put him with any guy and he can shoot that one-timer. I don’t know if he’s a first power-play guy, but he could be on that second power play. He’s got enough grit where he can kill penalties, so I think there’s more completeness in Dylan’s game.”

“I think the argument could be made that Johnson is the most skilled and creative offensive player in this draft, and that is tough to pass on, but I’d still lean towards Guenther. He’s not far behind in terms of skill and is probably the better pure scorer of the two. He’s got the advantage in terms of size and skating as well. He’s an elite skater with speed, quickness and power. He has a high-end hockey IQ that make him very good in all aspects of the game. A coach will want him on the ice in all key situations.”

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